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March 05, 2013

Burma Media Law Seen as a Step Backward

by Danielle Bernstein

Burma's new media law has come up for debate before parliament. Some rights groups say the law is a significant step backward for a country that only recently banned censorship.

The proposed law could make life more difficult for journalists.  Among other things, the legislation bans material that violates the country's constitution and incites unrest.  It also puts the Information Ministry's Registration Department in charge of determining violations.

The U.S.-based rights group the Committee to Protect Journalists has condemned the law, saying it amounts to a new censorship regime that would require of journalists to censor themselves, instead of pre-publication censorship. Shawn Crispin is the Southeast Asia representative for CPJ. He says the vague nature of the law's language is of particular concern.

"The Ministry of Information will supervise a new committee which will effectively be charged with supervising the media. And, if they deem that these vague provisions are violated, they will be empowered to punish and sanction publications including through the use of bans, which is something we regularly saw under the pre-publication censorship regime," said Crispin. We don't think that the state should have that role as to supervising what is and what isn't ethical journalism."

Crispin says the draft law was disappointing, after the ministry had conducted so many consultations and taken so many precautions to draft a liberal law that considered the needs of journalists and publishers.

Ministry of Information spokesperson Ye Tint tells VOA the new law is an improvement on the old one because there is no censorship, only registration. He says the law is up to international standards because it safeguards national security. And he adds that the Myanmar Press Council need not be concerned with the law, because it affects only publishers.

"This law is not related to the press council.  It is only for our ministry. Press council must drafting law for the press law," noted Ye Tint.

Debate on the legislation comes just a month before private newspapers in Burma will be allowed to publish dailies for the first time in nearly five decades.

Ross Dunkley, Editor in Chief and Publisher of the Myanmar Times, says he has some concerns. But he says the parliamentary process is there to identify and eradicate problems in the law.

"I encourage the government for introducing it, but let's see the debate happen and let's throw out all the bad things about the proposal, and keep the good things and then I think that we're going to get there," stated Dunkley.

Dunkley says his paper is on track to begin daily publication on April 1st.